By Bill Bryan
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Also in the news: Texas sheriff worries about 'gypsy cops':
Proof that he doesn't sweep scandals under the rug
ST. LOUIS — Thousands of dollars in cash — perhaps $40,000 or more — has been stolen from the evidence vault in the property-custody room in the basement of St. Louis Police Headquarters, the Post-Dispatch has learned.
The theft is the second from a safe inside the Police Department this year. Police Chief Joe Mokwa disciplined several high-ranking officers for their lack of accountability in that earlier case, the department confirmed.
Lt. Col. Roy Joachimstaler, chief of detectives, confirmed Sunday that the department is conducting internal and criminal investigations into missing money from the vault. He said he could not provide an estimate of the amount taken.
Police sources with knowledge of the investigation said it was about $40,000.
"It's devastating to me and the personnel and supervisors within the bureau of investigation that a criminal act occurred on our watch," Joachimstaler said in an interview.
"Even the hint of tarnish to the badge on the chest I take very, very seriously," he said. "We're working to put whoever did this in the penitentiary."
The money from the basement vault was taken from evidence envelopes that had been slit open, sources said. Joachimstaler confirmed that it could have been taken as long ago as 2003.
The department's internal auditors discovered the vault theft this summer. Those auditors were called in after a theft from one of three safes in the North Patrol Station on Union Boulevard earlier this year. That theft involved less than $500, sources said; a culprit has not been caught.
However, Mokwa disciplined several top assistants after the North Patrol Station theft was discovered. Assistant Police Chief Steve Pollihan received a written letter of reprimand; Lt. Col. Reggie Harris was given a day off without pay, and Capts. Steve Hobbs, Leman Dobbins and James Moran were all given two days off without pay. The department confirmed those disciplinary actions Sunday.
None of those high-ranking officers is accused of being involved in the North Patrol Station theft, but Mokwa wanted to send a message that they are accountable for what happens on their watch.
Disciplinary action against high-ranking officers is rare in the history of the department. Of 15 St. Louis police officers disciplined after detectives used World Series tickets seized from scalpers last year, just one was higher than a sergeant.
Harris was a major in charge of the North Patrol when the money was taken, and the captains were commanders of the three districts that comprise the North Patrol Station.
Several of the disciplined officers — who all agreed not to challenge Mokwa's discipline — declined to talk to a reporter.
The theft from the North Patrol Station was discovered during the spring when someone who had been arrested went to retrieve his belongings.
Mokwa took no disciplinary action against the many lieutenants, lower in rank, who had access to the safes in the North Patrol Station at that time.
The money missing from headquarters was seized property, including cash in drug cases that didn't go to trial and unclaimed cash from former suspects. Joachimstaler said he didn't know why the money was sitting in the vault for so long.
"I can say that some protocols were not being followed and some new protocols are being instituted where we saw weaknesses," he said. A new procedure manual has been prepared amid the reorganization of the property custody room. New security measures include new locking systems and an electronic surveillance system. Also, no one is allowed to go into the vault alone.
In the heist at headquarters, many people had access to the vault — commissioned officers as well as civilian employees.
Fingerprints have provided no solid clues, and lie detector tests might be given, the sources said.
"We're going to get to the bottom of this," Joachimstaler said.
Copyright 2007 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Thousands of dollars missing from St. Louis police vault